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Awesome Kitten Facts (You Probably Don’t Know)

Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘The smallest feline is a masterpiece” and who could disagree?   Facades of the toughest men become softer simply by putting them in the presence of a litter of kittens. From the moment kittens are born, their lives become a circus of adorable antics as they grow, learn and explore the world around them.   We can’t seem to get enough of these precious little ones!

Kittens are Helpless at Birth

Newborn babies need special care and a mother's love to grow.

Newborn babies need special care and a mother’s love to grow. (Credit to Flickr user Kami Jo)

 

Mother cats give birth after a gestation period of about 65 days.  Some mammals, such as foals, can run within mere hours of birth, but kittens are entirely dependent on their mother for weeks and undergo incredible sensory and phsyical growth during this time.  Kittens are born both deaf and blind, and won’t open their eyes until 1-2  weeks of age and even then their vision will be blurry.  It will take another two months before they fully develop the incredible eyesight adult cats are known for.

 

Also, newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body heat so snuggling for warmth is crucial in the first few weeks.  The time that mothers and babies spend cuddling and nursing is an important form of bonding and beyond adorable!  Orphaned kittens require additional external heat, such as a heating pad.

Tabbies, Calicos and Tuxedos, Oh My!  

There are hundreds of feline color combinations, but did you know that kittens within the same litter can all be different?  Cat genetics is a crazy thing.  Mixed-coat litters- such as a calico, tabby, and tuxedo- are not all that uncommon, and to make matters more confusing, one litter can potentially have two different fathers!  Because of the role of genetics, only 1 in every 3,000 calico cats are male and those rare few carry an extra sex chromosome, XXY, and are infertile.  Orange tabby cats, on the other hand, are more likely to be male.

Unique as a snowflake! All cat noseprints are one of a kind. (Credit to Flikr user Minxlj)

Blue Eyes and A Button Nose

If kittens can be born with so many different coat patterns, why are they all born with the same blue eyes?  Because, similar to humans, the pigment melanin takes a while to be deposited into the iris.  Cat noses, however, are entirely unique from the moment they are born.  In fact, no two cats’ nosesprints are alike-  just like fingerprints.  This kind of makes eskimo kissing your cat even more precious, doesn’t it?

What to Expect: Your Kitten’s First Year 
While many people think of kittens as being itty bitty, ‘kitten‘ refers to juvenile cats who are under a year old.  Cats don’t reach adulthood until about a year, so the first year is a crucial time for learning cat ettiquete and honing their skills: social behaviors, cleaning and bathing, physical feats like jumping and hunting.   The first few months of a kitten’s life is highly social and the peak time for interaction with other kittens, which is why adopting young kittens in pairs is beneficial to their social and behavioral well-being.

‘Teenage’ kittens like Beck here are still learning through play! Kittens don’t reach adulthood until at least a year of age. (Photo Credit: Pet Adoption Network)

In the the latter part of a kitten’s first year, they tend to focus on personal growth and solitary behavioral skills, though being around other cats remains a highly positive influence for many.  Playfulness and curiosity doesn’t disappear once cats are ‘adults’-  it lingers for years in many adult cats, often throughout their whole lives.
Kittens, Kittens, Everywhere!  
While cats are not ‘adults’ until after a year old, they become sexually mature at a much younger age.  Typically, felines reach sexual maturity at about six months of age but it can happen even younger, at just four months!   Once they reach puberty, both male and female cats being to exhibit a slew of unfavorable behaviors and are able to reproduce.  They will even mate with their own siblings if given the chance, so getting your cats fixed as young as possible is ideal and safer for them in the long run.
Remember, all homeless pets are born because their parent was not spayed or neutered, and even newborn kittens are not exempt from being euthanized at shelters.  Some people feel that allowing their cat to have ‘just one litter‘ before being spayed is okay, so they can get to ‘experience’ the process.  However, even if you find good homes for every kitten your cat gives birth to, that means another one in a shelter won’t.  If you’re dying to see newborn kittens first hand, contact a local rescue and ask about fostering a pregnant or nursing mom.  You’ll get everything you’re longing for, without increasing the number of pets that don’t make it out of shelters alive.
Too Cute to Handle 
Come on, you know you want to foster a litter of kittens, right?  But do you know if you’re ready? Watch this video, and if you can handle the cute, you’re ready.   Behold, the power of kittens at play!
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How Pets Can Help with New Year’s Resolutions

For most of us, especially here at Pets fur keeps, our pets wear many hats:  they are our greatest comfort, patient listeners, our best friends, spirit lifters; just to name a few roles .  Our pets often bring out the best in us, and depending on some of your resolutions, they can be wonderful motivations and inspirations to achieve your goals.   So while your dog or cat probably doesn’t have their own new year’s resolution, that doesn’t mean they can’t help with yours!newyearsdog

Lose Weight & Exercise More:  Year after year, this takes the #1 spot for most popular resolutions, and probably always will, considering 1 in 2.6 adults think they are overweight, and roughly the same percent are obese.  But if you have a dog, you’ve got the best exercise partner ever.   Set a goal of how far you want to walk everyday, and stick to it, but not just for yourself, for your dog: to see your pup’s eyes light up when you say ‘walk’ and grab the leash, to see his little dance as you walk out the door.

For added incentive, download the ResQWalk App (it’s free for both iPhone and Android).  The app tracks the number and distance of all your walks, AND it donates money to the rescue of your choice every time you hit the pavement.  Talk about motivation!

Fall in Love:  Another common resolution it to fall in love or find ‘the one.’   Did you know pets can help with that too?  Yup, and rescue pets have even more sway for attracting that someone special.  Check out these stats from a 2014 survey of Match.com pet owners by Petsmart Charities:

  • 59% of women would be more attracted to someone if they found out they rescued a pet rather than bought one
  • 35% of single women have been more attracted to someone because of their pet
  • 4 out of 5 singles are pet lovers

Plus, there are lots of dating sites just for pet lovers, including DateMyPet , MustLovePets, PetPeopleMeet, PetPassions, & MeetAnimalLovers.

Quit Smoking:  If you can’t quit for yourself, would you do it for Fido or Fluffy?  According to a 2009 survey, 28% of pet owning smokers would consider quitting if they knew the smoke could harm their pets.  I hope you’re one of them!  The ASPCA’s Poison Control Center says “Nicotine from secondhand smoke can have effects to the nervous systems of cats and dogs. Environmental tobacco smoke has been shown to contain numerous cancer-causing compounds, making it hazardous for animals as well as humans.”

Cats who live with a smoker are 2-3 times more likely to develop cancer, including lymphoma, which kills 75% of afflicted cats in under a year.  Cats with smoking families typically have nicotine and other toxins in their urine, and are especially vulnerable to oral cancers because they are constant groomers- consistently consuming the cancer-causing carcinogens from secondhand smoke (Mercola).  For dogs in smoking households, their risk of lung cancer increases by 60%.  Small animals and birds are also at increased risk for lung cancer, heart problems, and pneumonia (Petfinder).

So make this year count- not just for you, but for your pet, too!  Best of luck with all of your resolutions and endeavors for 2015.

Why Does My Cat… Meow All Night Long?

For the second edition of Why Does My Cat… we’re focusing on cats who yowl, howl, cry, and talk through the night.

Cats are often thought to be capable of spiteful behavior- as if the cats are mad at their guardians and trying to deprive them of sleep- but in reality, when cats exhibit certain types of behaviors- especially those that irk guardians- there is a message behind it that we need to interpret.

Let’s  see what we can learn about your cat from this behavior.  Keep in mind, it could be a combination of things and there likely won’t be any quick fixes, but seeing things from your feline’s point of view can help you take appropriate action to help your household achieve a serene night’s sleep.

Born this way

Some cats are chatty by nature, just like people.  This can simply be a personality trait, or influenced by genetics or breed.  Siamese cats, for example, are known for being very vocal.  Is your cat generally talkative, especially when he or she is happy or excited?  If so, your cat will likely be talkative when they’re not so happy as well or trying to tell you something.

Something’s Wrong

Sometimes vocalizations are not just behavioral; they can be signs of underlying medical conditions that require immediate attention.  It is critical that you rule out medical issues first and foremost!

“Most cases of nocturnal yowling is associated with hypertension and hyperthyroidism in cats over 9 years old,” explains Dr. Richard Yacowitz, an owner and veterinarian at Little Silver Animal Hospital.    “A simple blood test will show the latter and a blood pressure measurement will pick up hypertension.  Sometimes cognitive problems and stress will show these symptoms but they tend to be at the bottom of the list.”
Dr. Yacowitz has been practicing veterinary medicine for almost four decades, and is one of the few veterinarians Pet Adoption Network works with and proudly endorses.   For more information on his practice and experience, please visit Little Silver Animal Hospital’s website.

Something’s Changed

Although cats act as though they couldn’t care less about what goes on around them, they actually get incredibly comfortable in the daily routine- yours and theirs.   Routine disruptions, such as a change in feeding time, visiting friends or family, new pets, or even a slight alteration in your work schedule- can stress out your cat.  Cats don’t usually adjust well to change, but they will if you are patient and help them along.  So try to identify a disruption (don’t overlook subtle ones) that might be causing your cat to start howling at night, and address it.

I’m Bored and/or Lonely

Although cats sleep a good chunk of the day, they still have quite a bit of energy that they need to expend on a daily basis.  Their wild cousins spend much of their waking hours stalking and hunting prey- a stealthy and often strenuous task.  Domestic cats are still wired this way, and have to find another outlet for their energy or they are likely to become restless or destructive.  The best remedy for this? Make intensive playtime sessions part of your regular routine.  This not only helps cats to expend their pent up energy in a positive way, but helps maintain their all-around health, and can eliminate many forms of destructive behaviors including inappropriate marking, improper scratching, and late-night solos concerts.  (We suggest following Jackson Galaxy’s ‘play therapy’ guidelines!)

Loneliness and boredom often go hand in hand, therefore, if your cat is lonely they might react in a similar way as if they were bored.  Having a companion cat can lessens their bottled-up energy, and keeps them not just physically fit but also mentally stimulated, which is just as important in maintaining a cat’s health and well-being.

A special thanks to Little Silver Animal Hospital and Dr. Yacowitz for help with this article.

LSAH supports our rescue work, so please support them by ‘liking’ them on Facebook, and if you’re looking for an experienced and caring vet, consider LSAH!
They also have a special cat section of their website with tips and videos, check it out. 

 

Cats & Claws

No matter how gentle or docile your cat is, chances are you’ve got a few battle scars from run-ins with those claws.  But with a little patience, practice, and good guidance (which we’re about to give you!) you can master the often-despised task of nail trimming.  It is a wonderful skill that all cat guardians should learn because it creates a happier home.

The only thing cuter than a kitty's paw bouquet is a paw bouquet with trimmed nails!

The only thing cuter than a kitty’s paw bouquet is a paw bouquet with trimmed nails!

Regular trimming ensures that your cat’s claws won’t overgrow and curl under and into the paw pad.  Ingrown nails are extremely painful and can cause nasty infections.  Also, your cat will be less likely to get caught on fabric or screens,  and it will lessen the level of destruction caused by unwanted scratching on clothing or furniture (or, well, people!).

Many cat parents are intimidated by the idea of trimming, but once you know what to do and where to cut, it’s pretty simple.  First, let’s get familiar with the structure of the toe, and why claws are so important.

Anatomy of a Paw

Part of the reason cats are so light-footed is that they walk on their tippy toes; this is called digitigrade movement.  Humans, primates, and bears walk fairly flat footed, which is known as plantigrade.   Because cats are digitigrade, their claws are crucial for comfortable locomotion and balance.  Unlike human fingernails which attach to flesh, cats’ nails grow directly from the bone.  When cats are declawed, part of this bone is removed in order to stop it from growing again.  Afterwards, they are left to walk on what is left of the amputated digit.  Imagine if someone removed part of your foot, how difficult and painful would it be to walk?

When at rest, a cat’s claws are safely sheathed and tucked away.   When he or she wants to utilize them -either for defense, play, or climbing- they protract the nails outward using ligaments and tendons.  Cats have four regular claws on each paw, plus a dewclaw that is set back on the inner side of each front paw, sort of like a thumb.  The dewclaw is awkward: it hangs loosely, doesn’t touch the ground, and is considered a vestigial limb, one that has lost most or all function that their ancestors once used it for.   You should trim this claw anyway because it still grows; you don’t want it become ingrown and infected.

Making them comfortable

A cat who has never had her nails trimmed before will be pretty startled if you just hold her down, grab her paws, and start clipping away.  For this reason, it is important that your cat is familiar with the sensation of having her paws touched and handled, so begin doing this as soon as possible.  The younger you start, the easier it will be in the long run, so if you adopt a kitten, don’t delay on getting her comfortable with this.  But that doesn’t mean an adult can’t get used to it even if you haven’t done it before.   Start by stroking her paw, then gently holding it.  If she pulls away, allow her to, but keep a loose hold.   Eventually, start to put pressure on the toes to extend the nail from the sheath.   It is also a good idea to also allow your cat to see and smell the nail clippers ahead of time.   These techniques are best done when your cat is already in a relaxed or sleepy mood.  Be patient and don’t get frustrated if she needs some time.

Let’s Get Trimming

Where to trimOnce they allow you to handle the paw without fretting, you can start to trim.   Make sure you have the proper tool: a trimmer made especially for cats.  These are inexpensive and sold at all pet stores.  Gently grasp the paw between your thumb and index finger, putting a tiny bit of pressure on the first digit to protract the nail.  Follow the diagram, and remember that you only want to trim off the ‘hook’ of the nail, nothing more.  If you follow this rule of thumb, you’ll greatly eliminate your chances of cutting the quick.  Consider buying a clotting agent, known as styptic powder, to keep on hand in case you cut too close- just apply it to the nail and the bleeding will stop.  Corn starch works, too.

Keep in mind, not every cat or their guardian will be able to make it through a complete nail trim in a single session.   Consider keeping the trimmers readily available in an area where you frequently find your cat relaxed, so you can snip a few here and there. Even if it takes you a week to get them all done, that’s perfectly fine.  If you really feel uncomfortable with this task, ask your vet, groomer, or adoption agency to show you how, or you can usually have it done for a small fee/donation of $7-10.   A full set of nail trimming should be done once or twice a month.

How Pediatric Spay/Neuter Helps End Pet Homelessness

Most people are aware that many, many animals are euthanized each year because there aren’t enough people adopting them, and allowing your pet to have even one litter of kittens or puppies takes away the chances of those in shelters.  Spaying and neutering is an essential step in preventing further animal homelessness, and every pet should be fixed as early as possible.

kittenspay

Cats typically become sexually mature around six months of age, but this can happen as young as four months.  Spay/neuter surgeries are traditionally done around six months of age, but can safely be done much earlier with many benefits.   Although not all veterinarians are trained or comfortable in performing pediatric spay/neutering (also called prepubescent or juvenile spay/neuter),  the procedure is supported by the ASPCA, American Humane, Petsmart Charities, and the American Veterinary Medical Association.  Every year, more and more clinics are offering the procedure.

Pediatric spay, which refers to any procedure performed before 6 months of age and as young as 2 months or 2 pounds, reduces the risk of accidental pregnancies (one healthy, adoptable pet is killed in a shelter every 11 seconds, so why take a chance?)  Additionally,  both the surgery and recovery time is shorter in younger animals, and for females, performing the surgery prior to the first heat cycle “nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer,” according to America Humane.

Those apprehensive about the procedure cite various concerns, including obesity, stunted growth, and urinary tract issues.  However, studies over the past two decades have disproven any increased occurrence of these in animals who were spayed under 6 months of age.

Claims of short term problems have also proved to be rather inconsequential.  People for Animals (PFA), a high volume spay clinic in Hillside, New Jersey published a study in 2012 of 963 cats and dogs who underwent pediatric spay/neuter.  Of these, 97.5% had no behavioral or physical concerns within 10 days of the surgery.  Minor complications, such as temporary change of appetite, mild infection at incision site, and coughing/sneezing, were noted in 2.5% of the patients.  Major complications were reported in only 0.8% of patients, and not all of these complications were due to surgery.  PFA’s conclusion from the study was “Early age spay/neuter at People for Animals clinics is safe and is not associated with significant postoperative complaints.”

Of course, as with any surgeries, post-operative monitoring is required, and only healthy animals should undergo the procedure.  Whether used in rescue, Trap-Neuter-Return situations, or for pets already in homes, pediatric spay/neuter is both the smarter method of sterilization, and a critical tool that helps us to end pet overpopulation and be more responsible in our care of cats and dogs.

A Special Sorrow: When a pet crosses the Rainbow Bridge

Last weekend, my family and I euthanized our cat, Smokey, after a 10 month long fight with cancer (spindle-cell sarcoma, thought to be provoked by vaccinations).  In the weeks prior, I was constantly worrying about having to make the decision on my own, as my dad travels frequently for work, and my mother was visiting friends the week before.  Fortunately, everyone was home the night we knew it was time. It is part of my grieving that inspired me to write this post and explore the emotions and societal stress of losing a beloved pet.

Rainbow Bridge

What makes the human/animal bond so uniquely special?  Is it the fact that the relationships are based  on deep, unspoken understandings? Or the fact that they are always there for you, without fail or judgement?  Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that pets and their guardians have a inimitable companionship. Like the bond itself, the sorrow  is of a special kind.

It is a difficult time that may be stricken with additional emotional baggage such as guilt and questioning one’s decisions.  We may feel burdened by the sadness, and think the pain is too much. Societal influences- such as people who try to tell us that ‘it was just a pet‘ or ‘well, just then get another one,‘ can make one feel isolated and ashamed.  But we know, the grieving is justified and is a natural, healthy reaction.

Bob Szita, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Marlboro, NJ knows that pets play multiple roles in our lives; protector, companion, confidant.  “People have a certain closeness with animals, one that is often based on an emotional connection,” explained Szita, who specializes in grief counseling.

A Loss Worth Grieving

While the death of a pet does not always impact us the way the loss of another human does, human/pet relationships are deeper than many people believe.

“Animals live with us, they follow us around, look into our eyes and purr. They are more emotionally personal with us than most anybody else,” said Szita, who offers pet bereavement counseling at his practice and also has a free pet loss hotline.

“People often do not realize the emotional connection we have with them, so when we lose them, the ties are cut and you are so surprised at how much you’re missing them.”

Whether the pet’s death be due to illness, old age, or an accident, guardians are often left with guilt, depression, sadness; a void indescribable to those who don’t share a bond with a pet. We must often confront people who try to belittle our  feelings or make us feel as though the sorrow is silly.

According to Szita, this type of behavior is common. Unless you are close with the person and feel that it is worth it to help them sympathize, you should avoid those people, or at least avoid the topic.  “If it is someone who doesn’t know the emotions that go along with having a relationship with an animal, chances are they’re not going to get it,” said Szita.

There is a saying that goes, ‘Until one has learned to love an animal, a part of their soul remains unawakened’ and it is very fitting for this.  It is an bond that cannot truly be explained it words, it must be felt firsthand and until then, such people will not understand how our souls grieve their loss.

This is Smokey 'making biscuits' with the vet techs after getting chemo.  She was always so strong and brave!

This is Smokey ‘making biscuits’ with the vet techs after getting chemo. She was always so strong and brave!

Love in Life and Death

Another aspect of losing a pet that makes the suffering stand apart is the decision to euthanize.  Euthanasia is not something typically experienced with human loss, and to make it more difficult,  animals cannot communicate to us in words how they are feeling.  Whereas elderly people tell family members that they are ready to die, have lived a full life, etc., our pets cannot offer that same condolence, so the pressure mounts on us to trust in our decisions.

Unfortunately, there is no guideline or rule of thumb to know when the time is right; it is a subjective decision pet owners must make based on their own intuition.  This decision is made all the more difficult, because animals often hide their symptoms and signs of discomfort, a natural instinct to conceal weakness to predators.  Nonetheless, our pets continue to speak to us and we must listen.

“Our animals talk to us, and although they don’t use words, we know what they’re saying, by the twitch of an ear, wag of a tail, sideways look,” Szita described.  For Smokey, it was her eyes that told us the quality of life was no longer worth it, along with changes in her breathing.

Along with being intently attuned to your pets behavioral and physical changes, it is important to keep communicating with them until the very end.

“Talk to your pet about your emotions, your decisions, and let them be a part of it,” Szita suggested.   Doing so will ‘help your emotions along’ and although it makes them more intense and overwhelming, expressing them is a positive thing.  Otherwise, our emotions may get bottled up and interfere with other aspects of our lives.  “In discussing these thoughts with our pet,  we let them know how we feel.  They’ll feel your love, your closeness.”

Much uncertainty comes with the decision to euthanize no matter what the situation.   “If we are tuned into the animal, we’ll know [when the time is right] the best that we can.  We make the decision based on what our limited senses can tell us.”   It is important to release ourselves from guilt and remember our love for him or her, and that our being with them makes it better.  “We make the life- and death- of that animal better,” Szita reminded me.

Cry, Love, Remember

Most pet owners create some sort of memorial or shrine to their beloved fur-friend; it eases the pain and helps us to remember our pet during happier, healthier times.   I suggest taking time to go through old photos and share memories of the animal’s life with those close to you.  You will probably cry, but you’ll laugh too, and undoubtedly smile lots.

Memorializing our pets, or even holding a funeral-type ceremony, is important to the healing process because as it validates our grieving.  Doing so with family or loved ones is even better.  “In doing that, you will feel like you’re supporting each other and honoring your feelings, that’s the important part,” Szitz explained.

After Smokey’s death, we buried her in our backyard, placing flowers in the bottom of her grave, and on top of it.  We scattered flower petals, lit incense, and talked about how ironic it was that as top cat of our household, she was also the smallest.  We embraced each, we cried, and then we smiled.  A ceramic cat sits atop her.

Please share your thoughts and experiences.. what does ‘a special sorrow’ mean to you?

For more information on Bob Szita’s pet bereavement line or counseling programs, click here.